The Fastball at the Head

          I was fourteen and waking up on a midsummer morning. I could hear the rain pelting the house, the driveway, the sidewalk, the road. I was happy, or at least relieved. No baseball.

          If I had been planning on playing the game itself, I would have been unhappy, but I was supposed to umpire that morning. That splendid sogginess meant I would not have to. And not calling balls and strikes that day was a relief.

          My town did not have Little League, youth baseball connected with the national and later international organization, but it had its own version run by the Recreation Department. It had divisions by age—nine and ten, eleven and twelve, up to eighteen. I was scheduled to umpire a game between teams of the youngest at nine that morning.

          I got the job by passing a test but not one that measured your ability to call a baseball game with any accuracy. Instead, it was like a school exam, except this one was on the rules of baseball. I got a booklet of the baseball rules at Joe Hauser’s, the local sporting goods store, and read it a few times. I was good at tests and was confident, especially because I had been tipped off to the trick question that appeared every year. It asked what the proper call was if a line drive hit the pitching rubber and bounced back into foul territory between third and home without touching anyone. Of course, the correct answer is “Foul ball!” Not everyone who took the exam on a spring evening–all boys (I don’t know what would have happened if a girl had come to be an umpire) going into high school next fall–was a diligent student, but I was, and I easily got one of the open umpire slots.

          That summer I was assigned games of the kids nine and ten and eleven and twelve. In every job I have had, I have learned things. With that first job, I may have learned something about discipline and responsibility and so on, but in this job I quickly learned that I hated umpiring nine- and ten- year-olds. This was in the old days. This was not T-ball or a game in which an adult tossed underhanded to a batter. No. There was a pitcher and a batter, and the pitcher invariably could not pitch and the batter invariably could not hit. And if a ball got into play, the fielders could neither catch nor throw. These young ones could not play the game, and this was also the time before the mercy rule where a game ends if one team gets far ahead. The games seemed interminable. Every time I umpired one of these games, I felt like the hourglass sand was spilling onto the dirt never to be replaced. And so on that morning, I blessed the rain because I would not have to umpire an under-ten game. (My feelings about these games are captured by the fact that I did not get paid when a game was rained out. The loss of money was worth it.)

          That summer I also umpired games of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. There was a vast difference in the two age groups. The ten-and-unders not only could not play baseball, they were also unformed in the personality department. The eleven- and twelve-year-olds were on their way to being human beings. Many were quick-witted or wiseasses, filled with jokes to throw at me, curious about the world (mostly that meant trying to find out what high school was like and whether it was true you might get attracted to girls). And now many could play a good game of baseball. This, however, sometimes presented a problem. The spectrum of physical development of twelve-year-old boys is broad. Some of them are close to bodily adulthood. These big guys often were the pitchers. These kids still played on a softball diamond, and the ball hurled from forty-six feet got to the plate with remarkable rapidity. This was not just the batter’s problem. I umpired standing behind home plate. Often the pitcher’s skill far outshone the catcher’s, and I could not be sure that the pitches would not make it to me. If I knew it was going to be one of those days, I got to the park extra early to get on the blowup chest protectors which best absorbed the thump of a thrown ball, but I still could leave with a bruise or two.

          That summer also reinforced what I already knew about playing baseball: A good batter has to overcome fear. It is frightening to have a hard object—a baseball—thrown as fast as possible in your vicinity, an object that could, and sometimes did, hit you. A natural instinct was to pull away when that object was thrown, but that natural instinct had to be overcome to hit the ball.

          Some boys came up to the plate seemingly oblivious of the danger, but with others I could feel, I could smell, the fear as they entered the batter’s box, but their reactions varied. Some did not even attempt to overcome the emotion. They bailed out even before the ball was thrown. It was clear they did not want to be there and projected that this was just a stupid game. Some struggled to contain the fear. They tried to jerk their body back into a hitting position after it had instinctively pulled away, but their conscious mind could not win out over their unconscious instinct. And they seemed miserable. They wanted, sometimes desperately, to be able to do it, but they could not, and every pitch made them a failure again. And then there were those who stood alongside the plate fearful, but never flinched and took their hacks like a baseball player. And I wondered if any of these reactions mattered except for those few moments three or four times a game on a few mornings during a ten-week summer. I wonder now if these different reactions would tell me anything about the subsequent adults these guys became.

Born Between 1925 and 1955. Hooray?

A friend, who is not a conservative, told me that he had been placed by an acquaintance on the distribution list for conservative chain emails. After he described a few of the emails, I said that I was curious and asked him to forward them to me. Many are overtly political, frequently with factual mistakes that a reasonably educated ninth grader would notice. Some are humorous, but even with these the urge to politicize often can’t be resisted, and a conservative slant is appended.

The friend recently forwarded this chain email:

Subject:  BORN between 1925-1955


The best years to be born in the history of Earth & we got to experience it all.  Thank God for all the times, the adventures, wars won, technology developed.  Generations after future generations will never experience what we did.  What generations we turned out to be.




Our Lives are LIVING PROOF !!!    

To Those of Us Born 
1925 – 1955:     
At the end of this email is a quote of the month by Jay Leno.

If you don’t read anything else, Please read what he said.       
1930s, 40s, and50s !!   
First, we survived being born to mothers who may have smoked and/or drank
 While they were pregnant.   

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn’t get tested for diabetes.  

Then, after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered  with bright colored lead-based paints.   
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets, and, when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps, not helmets, on our heads.  

As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, no air bags, bald tires and sometimes no brakes.. 

Riding in the back of a pick- up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.
We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. 

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no one actually died from this.  

We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter, and bacon. We drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar. 
And we weren’t overweight.  
Because we were always outside playing…that’s why!  
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.   
No one was able to reach us all day
And, we were OKAY.

We would spend hours building   
Our go-carts out of scraps and 
then ride them down the hill,

Only to find out that we forgot about brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to Solve the problem. 

We did not 
Have Play Stations, Nintendo   
and X-boxes. There were   
No video games, 
No 150 channels on cable,    
No video movies 
Or DVDs,    
No surround-sound or CDs,     
No cell phones,
No personal computers,   
No Internet and 
No chat rooms.       
And we went 
Outside and found them!   
We fell out of 
trees, got cut,    
Broke bones and 
Lost teeth,    
And there were 
No lawsuits    
From those accidents. 

     We would get 
Spankings with wooden spoons, switches, ping-pong paddles, or just a bare hand,
And no one would call child services to report abuse.

     We ate worms, 
And mud pies    
Made from dirt, 
The worms did 
Not live in us forever.   
We were given
BB guns for our 10th birthdays, 
22 rifles for our 12th, rode horses,
made up games with sticks and
tennis balls, and
    -although we were 
Told it would happen- we did not put out very many eyes.
We rode bikes 
Or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell,  
or just Walked in and talked to them.


Little League had 
And not everyone 
Made the team.    
Those who didn’t 
Had to learn    
To deal with 
Imagine that!! 

The idea of a parent  
Bailing us out
If we broke the law
was unheard of ..
They actually sided with the law! 

These generations have 
Produced some of the best risk-takers,    
Problem solvers, and 
Inventors ever.   
The past 60 to 85 years  
Have seen an explosion
of innovation and new ideas.
We had freedom,
Failure, success and responsibility, 
and we learned

How to deal with it all.   

   If YOU are One of those born    
Between 1925-1955,CONGRATULATIONS!  

  You might want 

to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids

before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good.  
While you are at it, 
forward it to your kids, 
so they will know 
how brave and lucky 
their parents were.  
Kind of makes 
you want to run through the house
with scissors, doesn’t it ?
The quote of the month  
by  Jay Leno:  

     “With hurricanes,  tornadoes,

fires out of control, mud slides, flooding, severe thunderstorms

tearing up the country

from one end to another, and with

the threat of bird flu and terrorist

attacks, are we sure this is a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?”



For those who 
prefer to think that God is not 
watching over us…
go ahead and delete this.
For the rest
 of us…..  
please pass this


I read a lot of this with a smile, for I was born in that lauded time. I rode my bike without a helmet and didn’t have to show up at home until the evening meal. But I also knew that a lot was left out of the halcyon description. I read the email again and noticed it said: “To all the kids who survived the 1930s, 40s, and 50s!!” Of course, it could not address those who were dead, but that salutation got me thinking about the childhood deaths and diseases of those born between 1925 and 1955.

(continued June 19)